Trump and Cabinet Nominees Pose a Grave Threat to Civil Liberties

Posted Jan. 4, 2017

MP3 Interview with Chip Gibbons, policy and legislative counsel with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, conducted by Scott Harris


Throughout the 2016 presidential election campaign, real estate billionaire Donald Trump showed his contempt for standard political rhetoric, and instead bluntly attacked conventional bipartisan views on the need to uphold human rights, international law and freedom of the press. Trump laid out an agenda that drew applause from his mostly white, right-wing supporters, but provoked concern among civil libertarians about a Trump presidency that would be autocratic, and employ repressive measures to intimidate his many opponents.

Federal policies that Trump promoted included his advocacy of a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.; a program mandating the registration of all Muslims in America; the mass deportation of undocumented immigrants; his endorsement of torture and murdering terrorist suspects’ family members, the expansion of mass surveillance and opening up libel laws to more easily sue journalists and news outlets with whom he disagreed.

As the president-elect has announced his administration’s nominees and appointments, it’s clear that many nominees in Trump’s Cabinet share his views on critical civil liberties issues. For example, Attorney General nominee Sen. Jeff Sessions opposes the First Amendment rights of LGBT student groups; Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s national security advisor, believes that Shariah, or Islamic law, is a present threat to the U.S.; and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, promoted white supremacist and Islamophobic views when he led Brietbart media. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Chip Gibbons, policy and legislative counsel with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, who discusses the grave threat he believes the incoming Trump administration poses to civil liberties.

CHIP GIBBONS: I mean, it's really hard to pin down Donald Trump on any sort of specific policies. He's very good at being slippery and going back and forth on things. But from what he's said, we know that he is going to be a nightmare for civil liberties. He's talked about surveillance of Muslims. He mentioned on people in mosques. He's mentioned a national Muslim registry and if not sure, that would be something similar to what Barack Obama just disbanded, the NSEERS (National Security Entry-Exit Registration System) registry which was of a resident immigrants in the country based on their country of origin, where all of the different countries just happen to be majority Muslim nation or an actual literal Muslim registry – it's difficult to figure out what he means by it. But either way, it's very frightening and something to to be opposed.

He also tweeted about criminalizing flag-burning. He said it should be, you know, either a year in jail or a loss of citizenship, which is kind of a really weird, incongruent two sets of punishments. He's generally defended torture; he said some stuff about "no one can tell me waterboarding doesn't work," which is interesting because one of his Cabinet picks for secretary of defense told him waterboarding doesn't work, and he was allegedly surprised to hear that, which makes you realize that Trump doesn't usually listen to views other than his own. He said he'll do a whole lot worse than waterboarding. He said, you know there's a debate about whether or not waterboarding is torture. Let's assume it is torture. I'm all for it. At one point he said, you know, even if it doesn't work, the people being waterboarded deserve it. So that's a really disturbing position on torture.

He also praised stop-and-frisk during the debate and he calls for some sort of national stop-and-frisk program which doesn't really make a whole lot of sense because it's local police, not the FBI, who are responsible for like, you know, cursory stops on the street. But it does show that he is supportive of various policies that are tantamount to racial profiling between his praising of stop-and-frisk to his really sort of unsettling comments about African-American communities to his wanting of a Muslim registry and spying on mosques. It's clear that he's into racial and religious profiling and the fact that he does not tolerate criticism and dissent very well, and when he has power over the NSA, over the FBI, and all these large surveillance apparatuses, it's just sort of, you know, a nightmarish situation – which is what we were worrying everyone about for the last 16 years or so. You know, if you keep building up these systems of repression, they can be abused, and of course, they have been abused by past administrations. So it wasn't like everything was rosy for civil liberties in the United States before Trump was elected, but I mean there has been a lot of people expressing concern about what Trump could do at the NSA that has the potential to be so terribly abused.

And we also know that his Cabinet picks are really unsettling and it would seem to be that they would confirm a lot of what he said he was going to do on the campaign trail. He's picked people who very pro-torture, who are very hostile to dissent, who have histories of racial and religious animus.

BETWEEN THE LINES: With the Trump administration coming in with an agenda that includes registering Muslims who live in the United States; a ban on Muslims entering the United States; the pledge for mass deportations of immigrants; building a wall in the southern U.S. border with Mexico; the endorsement of mass surveillance or escalating mass surveillance; reviving the official government sanctioning of torture; challenges to press freedom – what in your view are some of the most effective responses for opponents of these policy agenda items?

CHIP GIBBONS: So I think that one of the most effective means of resistance is actually organizing at the local level to pass local ordinances that limit what your local law enforcement can do. So we have two ordinances on our website and a resolution – a resolution is a non-binding state, you know, like "we disagree with the climate of hatred," whereas an ordinance has the force of law. So it would be like, "Our police are not allowed to cooperate with federal immigration policy or participate in mass deportations or spy on people because of their religion." And I think that it's clear that the current federal landscape is quite hostile to civil liberties. It doesn't mean we should give up or we just let them do it, but for a lot of people, particularly those who live in cities that are more open about civil liberties or more supportive and not supportive of the Trump agenda, there's a real window of opportunity for passing either of these model ordinances or some version of them and it would actually have the power of law and it would limit what your local people could in fact do. And I know passing local resolutions or ordinances can seem like a daunting task, but other cities have done it. There are a number of ways to contact us on our website about getting involved with this campaign. We can help you get started and give you some pointers.

For more information, visit the Bill of Rights Defense Committee at

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